DANELINKS.COM                                                                                                                                        7.1.05 

"Reprinted with permission of the author
 and  THE CANINE CHRONICLE

"CHARACTER STILL MATTERS"
By Gretchen Bernardi

We in the world of dogs and dog shows have a tendency to presume that we are somehow immune to the moral and ethical frailties and resulting bad behavior that beset the rest of humanity, that somehow just being in our sport endows us with the ability to know good behavior from bad and always to act on that knowledge. We forget that we represent just a small slice of our society at large, a microcosm of a much wider world. Are we not all humans who have found a little niche that suits us and gives us pleasure, bringing to that endeavor all of the strengths and weaknesses of character that we would have taken, or in many cases also take, to our other pursuits?

A few recent television broadcasts have highlighted this tendency in all of us. Breeders, judges, delegates—everyone seems to be outraged at the ridiculous and false way we have been portrayed as dog people in various media outlets. Many of the current television series portray some other groups just as badly or worse than we, as a sport, are portrayed in these series. Shouldn’t we all be ashamed…as human beings and not just as dog enthusiasts?

How does the typical stay-at-home mother feel about Desperate Housewives, in which that segment of our society is suicidal, adulterous, failures as parents and spouses and citizens? How does the typical funeral director feel about the dysfunctional family in Sex Feet Under? And let’s not even talk about carnival owners and laborers.

Every lawyer is not an ambulance-chasing crook. Every car salesman is not a greedy cheat. Every priest is not a child molester. And yet every one of us, at this moment, can recall several jokes about each of these groups of people. How do the good and honest members of these groups deal with these false and overblown portrayals? They do so by knowing that jokes, like the news and like entertainment, must represent the extreme or they will fail. That is the only way that much of our society becomes interesting in our modern culture, in which, as the author Poshard wrote in his book with the same title, we are Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Almost everything in our culture is now entertainment; it just took our sport awhile to catch up. And the trend started long ago, perhaps as long ago as the introduction of the telegraph, about which Henry David Thoreau wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate,” at least not as entertaining as necessary for an audience inundated with entertainment.

In the end, in a highly visible and exploitable world, it is all about character, and we should not expect participants in our sport to behave in ways that are contrary to their nature and we cannot expect that only people with unassailable principles will join us. In the end, character really does matter.

When exhibitors arrive at the show and take up ten parking places with orange cones, laying claim to their piece of real estate with screams and threats, do we believe that same person is not rude and overbearing in the waiting line at the theatre or will not push a grocery cart in front of anyone to check out first?

When able-bodied exhibitors get handicapped parking permits to enable them to park close to the ring and then show five German Shepherds and three Boxers that day, do we believe that they are honest about their lack of real disability in the course of their non-dog show lives - when parking at Wal-Mart - leaving the truly handicapped without a space?

When exhibitors fail to clean up after their dogs at shows or motel grounds, do we have any reason to believe that they pick up after their dogs, or their children, at home or in public parks?

When exhibitors of toy dogs bring ten crates under the judging tent ringside during judging despite the rules against this being printed in the premium list and posted at the show, do we believe that they follow the annoying little rules of life that we all resent, sometimes question, but usually follow. We do so because those irritating rules are what keep the world from chaos?

And lack of character and the resulting bad behavior flows both ways. When a parent tries to bribe a coach or a teacher to give a child special privileges or better grades, why would we think this person would not attempt to bribe a judge for a higher win. Why would this person hesitate to whisper those sweet nothings that involve specialty wins and group firsts to the judge during the dog’s examination?
When a man beats his wife or physically abuses his children, what in the world would prevent him from neglecting or mistreating his dogs properly at a dog event? When someone fails to meet financial obligations involving car payments and credit card bills, are we surprised to learn that the same person owes hundreds of dollars to the show photographers or the handlers. People who write bad checks to the grocer will also write bad checks to the superintendent.

Does an honest person suddenly, in his dog show judging duties, award high honors to undeserving dogs in exchange for promises of foreign judging assignments? Does a principled exhibitor make such offers? The very nature of our dog shows offers more than normal temptations for bad behavior, because it is both competitive and subjective. We must have a competitive component to our collective personality or we wouldn’t be in this or any other sport.

The area of our sport that supplies the most stringent test of character is breeding. In addition to the requisite skills of science and artistic gifts, the breeding of dogs, at the highest level, requires courage, honesty (with both ourselves and others), fairness in all of our arrangements and, above all, humility. And to continue for any length of time requires great resiliency in the face of failure and disappointment.

In addition to the ethical components of a planned breeding, including potential health and temperament of the resulting puppies and the condition of the bitch producing the litter, all of the strengths and weaknesses of character are brought to bear in the selling of the puppies. Are we honest about their show potential? Do we dispassionately evaluate the sire and dam? Are we placing the dogs in homes that are appropriate for the breed and the individual pups? Are our financial and contractual dealings all fair and above board?

None of us is perfect, we bring to this hobby, as we do to all activities, strengths and weaknesses of judgment and of character. But everyone can only conduct himself in the manner that his own character allows. Although we can ask and hope for the best, and make and enforce rules that punish the offenders, we should not be so disappointed when our own fellow enthusiasts transgress. And we should not collectively take the blame. In the end, the offending persons who seem to embarrass us so much are only embarrassing themselves. When we count the great things about living in our country, surely one of the greatest is the freedom for everyone to make complete fools of themselves. Some even get paid for it.

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